Commercial Cogeneration An Engine for Economic Developement

Commercial Cogeneration An Engine for Economic Developement

RUNREADY | Spring 2017 | Issue Number 30

The development team of Kyle Robinson and Drew Loftus had an unlikely beginning, as each worked for large developers running real estate projects in Indianapolis prior to the recession. When the real estate market crashed in 2008, Robinson and Loftus went to work pursuing their own separate tech ventures—Robinson worked in operations for a robotic mower firm, and Loftus in sales at a software development company.

Then in 2011, the owner of the apartment complex where Robinson lived put the painting project out to bid. Robinson, who was not a professional painter, offered to do the work cheaper. He got the job and recruited Loftus. They spent nights and weekends painting a 150-unit townhome complex.

“We had to pitch the banks,” Loftus recalled in an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal . “Being one of our first projects, the terms weren’t great, so we had to bring a lot of our own money into it.”

Now, six years later with 12 employees and four projects under their belt, Loftus Robinson looks to refurbish older, historic office buildings and market the space to tech-type companies seeking trendier digs than traditional downtown towers offer. The firm focuses on high-character projects that promote walkability, sustainability, and progressive design.

“We’ve always bought office buildings that are heavily in need of renovation,” Robinson says, “and gutted them and tried to make them more efficient.”

Energy efficent

In a departure from its earlier work, in 2015 Loftus Robinson completed a new $30 million mixed-use project in Fishers, an Indianapolis suburb. Dubbed “The Switch,” the ground-up development includes a 34,000-sq.-ft. office and retail building, as well as 102 apartments. The Switch draws on the railroad past of Fishers, attracting residents and technology-based businesses into the heart of the rebuilt downtown core.

In a unique twist, Loftus Robinson opted to install a 135 kW Cat® generator set to power the facility with a combined heat and power (CHP) system, receiving a $100,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Energy Development.

“There aren’t a lot of commercial installations in Indiana with CHP systems,” Robinson says. “We have industrial CHP installations, but not many that are found in commercial applications.”

The Cat G3306B gas generator set is housed in an enclosure that takes up two parking spaces in the corner of the Fishers downtown municipal garage, which is tied in to the development. The compact footprint genset is the ideal size and parallels with the utility grid. It is utilized mostly during times of peak energy demand, when the weather reaches hot or cold extremes.

“We’re always looking to make our buildings more efficient, which is better for everyone,” Robinson says, “It’s better for the tenants, more profitable for us, and better for the environment.

“From an operational standpoint, we work really hard to build an energy efficient building,” Robinson adds. “So we’re running energy models in our buildings before we build them to look at tradeoffs and to properly size equipment.”

The Switch is a highly energy-efficient office building with an advanced HVAC system. In moderate weather, the office building will pull 50-75 kilowatts, and in more extreme temperatures—hot or cold—it uses all 135 kW from the genset and supplements with power from the grid.

The Cat genset also serves as emergency backup power for the parking structure, automatically powering the elevators and the emergency lights in the event of an outage. It also powers two electric vehicle charging stations in the garage. Jacket water heat from the generator set will be utilized to provide free hot water to tenants of the mixed-use building, which includes two restaurants.

“We have some pretty technically savvy tenants in the building—one of our tenants is ClearObject, an engineering outreach program of Purdue University,” Robinson says.

“We also house a company called the Internet of Things, and they’re technically advanced. So our tenants appreciate the fact that we are on the leading edge of energy efficiency.”

Dealer support

When it came to procuring and siting the generator set, Robinson turned to an old college friend, Chris Cummings, who works in business development of alternative energy with local Cat dealer, MacAllister Power Systems.

MacAllister helped us all the way through the process with the system design, and they co-authored the grant that we received from the state,

Robinson said. “They also arranged for the containerization of the genset to house it and help us meet sound attenuation requirements.”

The genset was purchased through Cat Financial, which Robinson says was a simple process.

“We have a Cat loan now so we pay that monthly as opposed to paying our electric bill,” Robinson says, adding that he expects the cogen unit to pay for itself in six years. The developers anticipate savings of six cents per kilowatt hour.

Loftus Robinson can monitor the operation and performance of the generator set through a remote monitoring system set up by electrical contractor Newkirk Electric.

“It powers on and off automatically depending on weather conditions and electric demand,” Robinson says.

“They provided all of the external automated controls—so they have some system level recovery controls for the CHP system, as well as all the utility paralleling requirements—and with that it provides master control of the entire system.

“So we have remote access from our office, enabling us to monitor the status of the generator,” he says. “We also receive reports of any issues via e-mail. Everything is about as intuitive as it can be. We meter about eight separate points of energy usage both for purposes of the generator and just in general to see how the building is performing. Altogether, it paints a pretty good picture of what’s going on.”

MacAllister is providing regular maintenance of the genset through a Customer Support Agreement. Some common service items, including oil and spark plugs, are kept on site to cut down on service time.

“We’re training our facilities manager to handle the day-to-day checks of the generator,” Robinson says. “Up until this point, Chris has really been doing that for us. He stops in on his way to work to check fluids and do a quick visual inspection. He also assists the Newkirk guys in anything that they may need onsite to further the programming effort. So that’s been really great—I think he has gone above and beyond.”

Hotel cogen is next

Loftus Robinson is currently developing another project in Speedway, which is located right outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The project includes a 150-room hotel and some structured parking and about 100 apartments. Robinson says the development team is looking at installing cogeneration at the hotel, as well as in future projects.

“I think what we’re most excited about is utilizing cogeneration at hotels we build,” Robinson says. “They have heavy electrical loads and heavy night and day hot water loads, with showers, restaurants and a lot of laundry. So utilities are a big line item in a hotel’s operating budget, and we’re excited to build a bigger, but similar system for our Speedway hotel project.”